At worlds, U.S. ice dancers chase medals they missed at Olympics

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A question nagged at Madison Hubbell as she came home from the PyeongChang Olympics.

How do you let it go and move on?

Hubbell and her ice dance partner, Zachary Donohue, dropped from third after the Olympic short dance to fourth overall, struggling in the free dance. Donohue fell from one knee, putting his hands on the ice late in the program.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took gold and French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron the silver, to no surprise.

The bronze, considered up for grabs among the three U.S. couples, went to siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who also earned bronze in the team event, skating both programs. The Shibutanis lost to Hubbell and Donohue for the first time at nationals in January but were given first pick in the team event because they had better international standing.

So neither Hubbell and Donohue nor two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who tangled skates and fell in their Olympic free dance, made a podium in PyeongChang.

“That was something we really wanted, and I really believe had we skated our best we would have been third,” Hubbell told NBC Sports research last week.

Virtue and Moir and the Shibutanis both withdrew from this week’s world championships, a common move for Olympic medalists at the post-Olympic worlds.

That makes Papadakis and Cizeron clear favorites in Milan. Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates could both also make the podium as they begin paths to the 2022 Olympics.

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“We have moved on,” from finishing ninth at the Olympics, Chock said, “but it’s definitely going to stay with us and we’ll use it as fuel.”

Chock and Bates had the chance to lead the charge into PyeongChang after Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition.

They topped the 2015 World Championships short dance but were passed by Papadakis and Cizeron in the free. In 2016, the Shibutanis overtook them at nationals. In 2017, they dropped to seventh at worlds with Bates erring on twizzles in their free. Now ninth at the Olympics.

Chock and Bates took two weeks off the ice after their free dance (including when Chock was ill after they got home; she is also bothered by loose bone fragments in her ankle that require post-worlds surgery). Messages of support poured in during that time, including a memorable note from a woman who works with Bates’ dad.

“She said my son has cerebral palsy, and I see him fall down and get up all the time. Seeing your son and his partner, the way they got up was a great example,” Bates said.

Hubbell and Donohue shared coaches and Montreal training ice with Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron before the Olympics. They go into worlds remembering advice from the Canadians, who are expected to retire.

“We were really lucky to have Tessa and Scott all year telling us that the month after Olympics trying to get ready for worlds was ‘the worst month of your life,'” Hubbell said. “So we kind of felt prepared for it to be like Armageddon.”

Hubbell and Donohue were also in third place after the short dance at the 2017 World Championships. There, like in PyeongChang, Donohue fell during their free dance, and they finished out of the medals (ninth) with the Shibutanis moving up to bronze.

“I wish the Shibutanis were [in Milan] because last year I gave them my medal,” Donohue said, “and I don’t plan on doing that this year.”

No Virtue and Moir. No Shibutanis. Would it make a medal this week any less prestigious?

“Years from now no one will remember who was there and who wasn’t,” Bates said. “A world medal is a world medal.”

Key Short Dance Start Times (Friday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 9:42 a.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 10:23 a.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 10:30 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 10:37 a.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 10:43 a.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 10:50 a.m.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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